In the old days, the last day of a royal tour used to be marked by a drinks party that the royal would attend.
It was undoubtedly a painful engagement for the royal in question, but it was endured with good grace as a necessary evil. The theory was that the ink-stained wretches could be kept largely on-side if they were offered occasional goodies, and this illusion of friendship with the royals was the ace in the hole.
Harry and Meghan, however, have brought their tour of Africa to an end by announcing they are suing the Mail on Sunday.
It’s certainly a different way of doing things.
For some time, the press pack that covers Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have suspected they were looking for a fight, itching for an egregious, slam-dunk offender of whom an example could be made.
And on Tuesday evening they played their hand: The Mail on Sunday is to be the target of a dramatic new legal action by Harry and Meghan over the newspaper’s publication, in February when she was seven-months pregnant, of a private handwritten letter from Meghan to her father.
While the timing of the announcement left journalists scratching their heads, perhaps even more remarkable was the decision by Harry to write an intensely personal statement on his website announcing the action.
In an emotive 570-word outpouring, which recalled the letter published in the early days of his courtship to Meghan that decried the racist abuse she had been receiving, and which he is said to have written himself and not passed by the queen’s advisers, the duke said, “My wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences—a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy, and while raising our newborn son.
“There is a human cost to this relentless propaganda, specifically when it is knowingly false and malicious, and though we have continued to put on a brave face—as so many of you can relate to—I cannot begin to describe how painful it has been.”
Highlighting the “positive coverage” of their tour, the duke claimed it only served to “expose the double standards of this specific press pack that has vilified her almost daily for the past nine months. For these select media, this is a game, and one that we have been unwilling to play from the start.”
Harry wrote, “This particular legal action hinges on one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behavior by British tabloid media. The contents of a private letter were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate you, the reader, and further the divisive agenda of the media group in question. In addition to their unlawful publication of this private document, they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year.
“There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behavior, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people. We all know this isn’t acceptable, at any level. We won’t and can’t believe in a world where there is no accountability for this.
“Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one. Because my deepest fear is history repeating itself. I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
Harry concluded the letter with a direct appeal to the couple's fans: “We thank you, the public, for your continued support. It is hugely appreciated. Although it may not seem like it, we really need it.”
In seeking to make an example of Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail group of newspapers, Harry and Meghan have picked their target with care.
All newspapers have their DNA and the Mail on Sunday is a publication aimed squarely at those who believe in the fixity of class. Their obsession with class, and their conviction that its distinctions should be preserved, has made Meghan an attractive target for their vilification.
The Mail on Sunday has, therefore, had a field day with Meghan’s family, whom have they consistently sought to portray as trashy and vulgar. The classist subtext is horror that the daughter of such a rough lot should have made her way to the top of the royal family. Take a deep dive into the comments section and there are plenty of suggestions that Meghan has shagged her way to the top.
In Thomas Markle, the Mail found the perfect stick with which to beat Meghan. The irony is that, in a misguided attempt to defend himself from accusations that he was a deadbeat dad, Thomas gave his daughter’s private letters to the outlet that arguably triggered the rift between father and daughter in the first place. The paper revealed Thomas had cooperated with a photographer to stage photographs, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, of him engaged in hammy pre-wedding preparations, such as lifting weights, getting measured for a suit, and researching the royal family on the internet.
Legal action has been pondered behind palace walls ever since the story was published. The Sussexes have, it would appear, a watertight case: British copyright law states that you cannot publish a private letter without the author’s consent.
The fact that the person who received the letter has given it to you matters not a bit. English law has some “fair dealing” exemptions, but these mainly deal with incorporating the published text of books into articles about those books.
However, the Mail on Sunday is clearly intending to make this as painful as possible for Meghan and Harry, declaring Tuesday night that it would contest the legal action, saying, “The Mail on Sunday stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously. Specifically, we categorically deny that the duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”
In terms of what this means for the future relationship between the Sussexes and the press, it’s pretty clear that things will get worse before they get better. Neither side is ready to back down.
The Mail’s immediate retaliation was to publish a lead story on its website slamming the couple as eco-hypocrites for importing a fleet of Land Rover SUVs to South Africa to transport them around the country during their tour.
The fact that even the vast majority of the Mail’s own online commenters defended the palace’s decision to protect the royal couple in any way they see fit while visiting an exceptionally dangerous country hardly mattered.
When Harry said the action may not be “the safe one,” such media attacks are exactly what he was referring to. The newspaper is now likely to further denigrate, undermine, and criticize Harry and Meghan.
Everyone’s going to get hurt.
Harry and Meghan’s calculation is that, in the long run, speaking out and defending yourself is better than observing the old royal mantra to never complain and never explain.
One can’t blame him, especially after everything he has been through.
But one also can’t help feeling that, sometimes, the wisest course of action, when presented with a hornet’s nest, is not to kick it.